USC going for fourth straight victory in Thursday bout
Looking for their fourth straight victory, the Trojans welcome the Cal Bears to the Coliseum for a Thursday night clash. Both teams are coming into the game with an overall record of 4-3. USC is 3-2 in conference play and Cal is 2-2.Brian Chin | Daily TrojanBear trap · Sophomore defensive back Marvell Tell III (left) and senior linebacker Michael Hutchings (right) are part of a defense tasked with stopping a Cal offense that has the second highest pace in the nation.USC has not lost to Cal since 2003 and has limited them to 15 points per game during that time, but head coach Clay Helton is preparing his team for what he anticipates will be an up-tempo and high-scoring affair.“The other thing we worked on was third-down efficiency,” Helton said. “This is a group that as you watched them at Oregon had a 15-play drive, 14-play drive, 13-play drive … so the biggest thing for us with any quarterback is trying to get him off his spot.”Cal’s senior quarterback Davis Webb has Helton’s attention as one of the elite passers in the conference. Davis has thrown 27 touchdowns this year, the most in the conference and the second-most in the country. Davis also leads the Pac-12 in passing yards per game with 368.7 and total offense per game with 356.4 yards.Davis’ success has partially been due to his connection with redshirt junior wide receiver Chad Hansen, who leads the conference in receiving yards per game with 128.3. Hansen is recovering from a foot injury and his status for Thursday’s game is hopeful said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes.Cal plays at a frenetic pace, averaging 89.6 plays per game, the second most in the nation.“When you’re dealing with an explosive team like that and a quarterback like that, it’s just something you have to be ahead on,” senior linebacker Michael Hutchings said.The Trojans have had plenty of time to prepare though, coming off of a bye week. By contrast, Cal played their last game just six days ago. It is the first time in conference history that a team has had to play a short-week conference game on the road against a team who is coming off of a bye week.“We have had a chance to get up ahead of them mentally and game-plan wise and schematically,” Hutchings said. “So hopefully that pays off — the extra hours we put in the film room and getting a chance to watch them this week.”While Helton emphasizes a bend-but-don’t-break attitude for the defense, he also expects the offense to pick the defense up and score points of their own.“We focused a lot on our red zone game plan and what I think is really going to be the most important aspect of the game,” Helton said. “Any time you deal with a team that scores 43 points, you better be scoring points of your own.”Without senior running back Justin Davis, who Helton said was doubtful for Thursday’s game, the brunt of the run game will fall to sophomore Ronald Jones II. Cal’s defense gives up an average of 270 rushing yards per game, and Jones is looking to take advantage.“We’ll have to pick up the load,” Jones said. “We don’t really look too much into rankings, we’re just going to go out there and do what we do.”Playing without Davis two weeks ago when the Trojans faced Arizona, both Jones and fellow running back sophomore Aca’Cedric Ware heavily influenced the game, with Ware rushing for a career-high 103 yards.“The teams that have struggled against Cal are the ones that have gone three-and-out and three-and-out in a hurry,” Helton said. “When you are playing a team that puts up big drives, you have to sustain your own drives, have ball control and make those third downs.”USC is 26-11-3 all-time in Thursday games, but will face a staunch challenge this week if they hope to keep their unblemished home record this season. Thursday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.